A new competition featuring a number of new head coaches and, in Canada’s case especially, a raft of new players, is set to be introduced to the rugby world when the inaugural Americas Rugby Championship kicks off on Saturday.
Whereas its predecessor and namesake consisted purely of developmental sides, the current incarnation of the Americas Rugby Championship features the national teams of Argentina, United States, Canada, Uruguay and Chile, all within World Rugby’s top 25 ranked nations, and Brazil, who are currently 42nd.
Unlike its European equivalent, bonus points will be applied in a five-week long tournament designed to add a new tier of regular competition to countries in need of further opportunities.
“We are facing the huge challenge of growing the game in all of the region and this tournament is a great opportunity for this. Each rugby union is fully supporting the Americas Rugby Championship and we are very excited with what is coming ahead. The benefits of the ARC will be felt all over the continent,” declared Agustín Pichot, Chairman of Americas Rugby.
Team to beat
Argentina will start as favourites in many people’s eyes despite naming a squad shorn of a lot of frontline players due to the Jaguares’ involvement in Super Rugby.
“Our goal is to expose more players to the highest level and always promoting the best to Los Pumas,” explained coach Pablo Bouza.
The Argentina XV will kick-off their campaign in Houston against a USA side coached for the first time by John Mitchell.
With limited preparation time and an 0-8 record against Los Pumas, Mitchell and USA have it all to do to start on a winning note, however a run of three straight home games should work to their advantage as the Championship unfolds, and the return of former captain Todd Clever (pictured) will bring valuable leadership qualities to a youthful group, two-thirds of whom are under the age of 27.
USA’s neighbours Canada have a new man at the helm too, national women's coach Francois Ratier stepping into the breach after Kieran Crowley left his post to take up a contract with Treviso in Italy.
Having named 18 uncapped players in their squad, Canada will be a bit of an unknown quantity but they can count on hirsute 39-cap prop, Hubert Buydens, to lead from the front.
The Canucks begin with a home fixture against Uruguay, who are now coached by Esteban Meneses following a restructure of Los Teros’ high performance department.
Uruguay have to make do without a handful of their European-based stars due to club commitments, however the bulk of the squad that did the country proud at Rugby World Cup 2015 are present.
In the remaining game, Chile and Brazil will be looking to emulate the success of their respective sevens sides, who recently secured their place at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series core team qualifier in Hong Kong courtesy of a top-two finish at the Viña del Mar Sevens, when they play each other in Santiago.
Chile’s recent test series against Spain did not bring the results they’d hoped for and Los Condores’ experienced Australian head coach Paul Healy has subsequently resigned. The bulk of Chile's squad is expected to come from the under-20 side that finished third at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2013.
As 2016 Olympic Games hosts, the spotlight will be on Brazil more than ever. After a busy November, in which they hosted Germany for a two test-series and Colombia in the South American Championship Repechage, the Brazilian Tupís enter uncharted waters as this Championship will be the first time they have played in a test outside of South America.
Brazil ended Chile's dominance in fixtures between the two when they prevailed 24-16 in Sao Paulo in 2014.
Looking ahead to the start of the tournament, World Rugby Regional General Manager for the Americas Tom Jones said: “The new ARC will provide high performance and elevated quality competition for all participating teams. It helps to ensure a strong fixture list that their unions require as they start out on the road to RWC 2019. World Rugby will continue its funding of this ARC, as it did of the previous version. The ARC is a strong addition to the international calendar of matches, and a milestone for rugby in the Americas.”
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